Blurring the line between fine arts and entertainment, Babycastles is an independent arcade collective that has succeeded in occupying a wholly unique place in NYC’s already diverse art scene. Taking cues from both the indie game and DIY music communities, the collective has grown from occupying the basement of a small DIY music venue to having its own gallery on 14th street.
Babycastles was founded by Syed Salahuddin and Kunal Gupta and is named after a type of small cake you can buy in Japan. They specialize in creating full sized, hand made DIY arcade games that are free to play for the public. They were originally located in the basement of the Silent Barn, a club whose initial location was mysteriously ransacked including equipment from the original Babycastles gallery. They have since moved to their own location on 14th street, creating an atmosphere that Babycastles staffer Ari Spool describes as unconventional for a typical New York art gallery.
“Babycastles is not a typical gallery, because when people visit, they often stay for hours, hanging out and playing a game or three.” She also says that people end up “just enjoying the atmosphere,” and that the gallery has made efforts to make the space “less awkward and more welcoming than a standard art gallery,” said Spool.
She says that the collective has included hundreds of DIY video games creators over the years and that, as opposed to any one person creating a game, “we draw the games from our community and create the offline environment for them to be played in.” Babycastles’ current exhibit, which can be seen now until August 31, is called “Assalamualaikum Babycastles.” According to the museum website, Assalamualaikum Babycastles is “an exploration of the ‘lived Muslim experience’ through the embedded narratives of independent, contemporary video games.” Games featured in the exhibit like “GTA: Indonesia” and “Engare” utilize elements such as classical Islamic art to help communicate the game creator’s perspective of the Israeli-Lebanese War through art.
Each Babycastles exhibit is a totally unique experience. For example, the gallery had an exhibit in their former location where people played Christian-themed arcade games and listened to religious rock music while the theme of another exhibit was titled “Games That Will Make You Cry”. In addition to continued activity at their central location, the Babycastles founders were recently invited to speak about the relationship between DIY culture and their collective at the Museum of Moving Image for Indiecade East. This was in conjunction with the Babycastles Zine Reading Lounge which was on display at the museum.
As far as the future is concerned, they are not worried about making any big moves besides spreading the word and expanding interest in their new gallery. Spool says that they had only just moved into their new space in April and that they hope their new location may “appeal to communities outside of North Brooklyn.” The gallery is currently open several days a week and you can check their hours of operation by visiting their website. Or if you’re not yet convinced, watch this video of Babycastle’s final show at 285 Kent.
Contact the author @DouglasCapraro